WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration more than doubled transportation spending on bicycling and walking last year as it seeks to coax Americans out of their cars, according to a Federal Highway Administration report released Wednesday.
Spending on biking and walking projects rose from less than $600 million in 2008 to $1.2 billion in 2009. Twenty years ago, the federal government was spending only $6 million a year on such projects.
The spending on biking and walking projects was scheduled to rise last year anyway, but the administration boosted it with $400 million in funds set aside under the economic recovery program.
The new focus on biking and walking represents a turnaround from the administration of President George W. Bush. Mary Peters, transportation secretary under Bush, dismissed biking paths and trails as projects that “really are not transportation,” saying they had no place in federal transportation policy.
President Barack Obama, second from left, pauses on his bike ride with his family and friends including Sasha Obama, 8, right, while on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard on Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah, Mass. Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In March, Obama’s transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, announced a policy “sea change” that gives biking and walking projects the same importance as automobiles in transportation planning and the selection of projects for federal money.
The new policy is an extension of the Obama administration’s livability initiative, which regards the creation of alternatives to driving — buses, streetcars, trolleys and trains, as well as biking and walking — as central to solving the nation’s transportation woes.
Biking and walking is on the rise, according to the report, which is based on annual survey data. The number of reported walking trips has more than doubled since the first survey, from 18 billion in 1990 to 42.5 billion in 2009. Bicycling trips saw a similar increase, from 1.7 billion to 4 billion during the same period.
Together, the two modes account for 11.9 percent of all reported trips by Americans. Biking is less than 1 percent of the total.
“Americans want and need safe alternatives to driving,” LaHood said in a statement. “By making biking and walking safer and more accessible, we’ll be able to provide Americans with more choices and help foster more active, livable communities.”